If you traveled during the pandemic, but neglected to fill out the required form notifying the state of Massachusetts, you aren’t alone.
Records reviewed by the NBC10 Investigators suggest thousands of people visiting or returning to Massachusetts over a recent seven-month period likely skipped filing a travel form, based on vehicle and air travel during that time.
Filing the electronic form was previously mandatory for anyone coming from a state with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission.
After implementing the system last summer, Massachusetts collected more than 670,000 electronic forms, according to a summary provided to NBC10.
The top five international travel origins were Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, while domestically, travelers came in the greatest numbers from Florida, California, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.
But it’s likely many more people entered the Bay State, based on other transportation data from the same time period.
Roughly 2.5 million inbound passengers touched down at Logan Airport during those months, according to federal records. And while not all stayed for a visit – many transited through Boston on their way to other places – scores more arrived by car. AAA estimated last year that in the range of 1.4 million Massachusetts drivers would travel by vehicle during the holiday stretch from Dec. 23, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021 alone.
At that time, travelers from dozens of states were required to fill out the forms and quarantine for 14 days or get a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival in Massachusetts. Those who flouted the order risked being fined $500 per day.
But authorities in the Bay State told NBC10 they didn’t issue a single fine, a fact that helps explain low compliance, said Dr. Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease specialist with Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Public Health.
“If people know there’s not rigorous enforcement of that, they may be less inclined to worry about it,” Hamer said.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators are taking a closer look at a remote work arrangement for a public health leader.
The NBC10 Investigators found health officials took a similar enforcement approach to the statewide mask mandate in November.
The travel order was in effect from August 2020 through March 2021, when it was replaced with a more lenient travel advisory.
Families hitting the road for vacation this April won’t be required to obey the same strict quarantine and testing rules when they return to Massachusetts. Unvaccinated travelers are still encouraged to quarantine for 10 days or get a negative test when they return.
“I think the system as designed, unfortunately, is not very efficient,” Hamer said. “Some countries are calling people once a day to make sure they are in quarantine and see how they’re doing. That takes a lot of resources.”
We asked the state’s COVID command center about the overall effectiveness of the travel order and have not heard back.
Vermont and New Hampshire also told us they didn’t issue any fines for failing to fill out their travel forms. Officials in Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut didn’t respond to requests for information.
Connecticut health officials announced previously they fined seven residents $1,000 each for failing to notify health officials of their travels elsewhere in the country.
Norwood Public Health Director Sigalle Reiss said it’s been a roller coaster trying to enforce safety protocols that are constantly evolving during the pandemic.
While compliance wasn’t perfect, the travel order still had a beneficial effect by making travelers rethink their plans, said Reiss, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association.
“It still does change behavior and encourage people to do the right thing and control the virus,” she said.